MOVIE BUFF-ET: Black, Blanchett conjure magic in ‘House with a Clock in Its Walls’

Universal Pictures

If you are looking for an early Halloween treat, Jack Black, Kate Blanchett, and director Eli Roth have one for you with their latest film “The House With a Clock in Its Walls.”

New In Local Theaters

  • The House With a Clock in its Walls (PG) 1 hr. 45 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne, Malco Springdale, Bentonville Skylight)
    » Watch trailer
  • Fahrenheit 11/9 (R) 2 hr. 5 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills)
    » Watch trailer
  • Assassination Nation (R) 1 hr. 47 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills)
    » Watch trailer
  • Life Itself (R) 1 hr. 57 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle Hills)
    » Watch trailer

The film is an adaptation of the acclaimed 1973 novel by John Bellairs which tells the tale of orphan Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) who goes to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Black) when his parents are killed in a car wreck.

Uncle Jonathan’s house is anything but quaint. Lewis discovers that his uncle’s creaky old mansion is not only enchanted but also haunted by a ticking clock that is counting down to doomsday.

Uncle Jonathan, you see, is a warlock who is searching for the doomsday clock which the house’s deceased former owners Issac and Selena Izzard (Kyle McLachlan and Renee Elise Goldsbury) hid within the walls. Next door neighbor Florence Zimmerman (Blanchett), a powerful witch, is helping Jonathan with his quest to get to the bottom of ticking.

Finding the clock becomes more complicated when Lewis accidentally resurrects Isaac from his tomb while casting a Halloween spell to impress his popular classmate Tarby (Sunny Suljic).

Black and Blanchett’s chemistry is delightful in this comic-fantasy that’s just spooky enough to be fun for kids and clever enough to capture adults’ attention. Black’s mania and Blanchett’s restrained charm worked surprisingly well together. Their performances lift the movie above the average kiddie-movie fare. I’d enjoy seeing them paired together in another film.

Roth, known for his torture-porn “Hostel” series, shows a tremendous amount of restraint in this PG-rated film compared to his past efforts, but his knack for scares gives the film just enough bite to set a spooky but playful mood for the oncoming Halloween season.

(PG) 1 hr. 45 min.
Grade: B

Classic Corner

Rebel Without a Cause

Warner Bros.

The Malco Razorback Cinema is showing a special screening of “Rebel Without a Cause” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23.
Viewed through modern eyes, “Rebel Without a Cause” may seem too melodramatic to be enjoyed, but given half a chance, the movie becomes engrossing.

Was star James Dean too over the top as the misunderstood and angst-ridden Jim, or was his performance on a higher plane than his co-stars? Consider that while watching the movie.

Dean’s character is frustrated by his hen-pecked father Frank (Jim Backus), who always acquiesces to his domineering wife Carol (Ann Doran).

Director Nicholas Ray generally shoots Backus in a submissive position to his co-star Doran. He’s often crying, and in one effective scene, he’s wearing an apron while down on his knees. Jim longs for his father to be a masculine role model but Backus’ Frank rolls over every time. Jim resorts to alcohol to relieve his confusion and emotional pain.

Judy (Natalie Wood) is a teen who longs for her father’s approval, but for whatever strange reason, her dad (William Hopper) finds it difficult to express his love for his teenage daughter. Judy takes to wearing racy — for the time — clothing than only entices her father’s anger. She acts out further. When she meets Jim, at first Judy is unimpressed, but after a tragedy one night, they are drawn together.

Sal Mineo plays Plato, a disturbed young man who commits a heinous act early in the film. He looks up to Jim, and oddly sees him a sort of a father figure, though Jim is just a few years older. Plato’s father abandoned him and his mother when Plato was a child, and now his absentee mother neglects her son, leaving a maid to rear him.
A misunderstanding between Jim and Plato sets the younger boy off, and this does not end well for the trio of youths, who had formed a pseudo family in an attempt to fulfill their emotional needs.

There is true feeling in the work of Dean, Mineo, Wood, and the other other actors. It’s a true step forward for naturalism in American cinema.

Oscar voters also missed the boat by not nominating Ray for an Academy Award for directing because his use of the camera in the film is about as close to poetic as as a filmmaker can get.